HL Deb 12 July 2004 vol 663 c47WS
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

Private military and security companies are entitled to conduct their business within the law. They should be given access to the support that government departments provide to British citizens and companies on the same basis as other companies. However, private military and security companies are also in a business that can, in certain conditions, have a direct and sensitive impact on international relations.

Following the Legg report into the Sandline affair in 1998 the FCO issued advice to all officials on contacts with private military and security companies (PMCs/ PSCs). This required officials to request permission for contacts with PMCs/PSCs whenever possible and for the FCO to consider the impact of those contacts before granting that permission.

These guidelines have been reissued twice since. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (Mr. Jack Straw) has recently approved a revised set of guidelines to deal specifically with the situation in Iraq, where a large number of private contractors are employed in essential security work.

One of the contractors concerned is Aegis Defence Services Limited, whose chairman and chief executive officer is one of the individuals named in the Legg report. The contract in question was awarded by the United States Government. Her Majesty's Government are not a party to the contract, nor were they involved in any way in its negotiation.

The guidelines recognise that contact with the private security companies that protect our staff in Iraq is inevitable and that liaison with companies providing security elsewhere is an essential operational requirement. In these circumstances, permission will not be required. However, all new contacts with PMCs/PSCs seeking commercial advice will still require permission and in all circumstances officials are required to report any activity that they suspect to be illegal or unethical to the FCO.

The Ministry of Defence is issuing similar guidelines to its personnel in Iraq.

I have placed copies of the general guidance and of the Iraq-specific guidelines in the Library of the House.